FeaturedNationalVolume 13 Issue # 10

Nawaz Sharif’s Shahbaz gimmick

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has named his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif as the ruling party’s candidate for the post of the prime minister in the next election. The move indicates the ousted prime minister has lost hope of any relief from the judiciary or the establishment to reverse his disqualification. It also proves that he has realized that there is no chance of his party winning the next election.

The news of the nomination of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was leaked to the media, instead of a formal announcement by a party spokesman or office-bearer. It indicates that the former prime minister still has other plans in his mind if his party wins the polls. According to sources in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, will be his first choice if the party wins the election. If she is disqualified by the courts, as she faces many corruption cases against her, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will be his second priority. It is said the nomination of Shahbaz Sharif is a political stunt to keep the party and its voters intact.

According to media reports, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told his aides that the younger Sharif would be the party’s candidate for premiership in the upcoming election. Reposing confidence in his younger brother, Nawaz Sharif said that Shahbaz Sharif had never disappointed him or the party, and had risen to prominence because of his hard work and performance. It is said that Nawaz also admitted that they had a difference of opinion on some issues, but Shahbaz never violated party discipline and defied his orders. He was also quoted as saying that he had accepted Shahbaz’s suggestions as well, at times. “I had to take General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s call condoling our father’s death upon Shahbaz’s insistence,” he said.

According to sources, the ruling party also conducted a survey in its strongholds to asses its popularity for the next election. The survey said the popularity of the Pakistan Threek-i-Insaf has risen immensely after the disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Panama case. Its findings said only Shahbaz Sharif can provide best results against the PTI, whose popularity has skyrocketed after the Supreme Court of Pakistan gave a clean chit to Imran Khan in a disqualification case against him. It is a fact that the ruling party can only stay united and obtain the best possible results if Shahbaz Sharif leads the party in the election, but he still has no chance of becoming the prime minister of Pakistan, because there are little chances of the success of his party in the election; and even if its wins, it will not nominate him as prime minister. In July this year, he had been tipped to replace Nawaz as the prime minister after his disqualification by the Supreme Court. However, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was appointed the prime minister as Shahbaz claimed he wanted to focus on completion of development projects in Punjab.

There are also rumours that the ruling party has entered into an agreement with the establishment, under which Shahbaz Sharif, who is considered close to the establishment, was launched. Political analysts say the decision to appoint Shabaz Sharif as a candidate for the prime minister’s slot is based on the party’s strategy to iron out differences with the establishment. PML-N legislators say the announcement has given a clear roadmap to the party to contest the next election. “There was criticism over some perceived misunderstandings, with other parties speaking of possible divisions within the party. But the situation has become clearer now,” they believe. There was a general perception in the party that stern reaction by Nawaz Sharif to his disqualification had divided the party and many feared for its future. While the former prime minister has been accusing the judiciary and the establishment of victimization and partiality, his younger brother has always been vocal against his criticism of the institutions.

Party sources say Maryam Nawaz could also be a candidate for the Punjab chief minister post in the next election. She will contest elections for National Assembly and Punjab Assembly seats. It is believed she will contest elections on four seats, NA-120, NA-123, PP-147 and PP-144, and she has already launched a campaign in the constituencies without any formal announcement. Both Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz have been included in a 27-member Central Executive Committee of the PML-N earlier this month. However, she faces certain jail in corruption, forgery and perjury cases, alongside her father and brothers. Recently, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has summoned the record of her interviews on television channels from the Press Information Department. It has also sought the record of interviews of Nawaz Sharif and sons Hassan and Hussain Nawaz. The request has been made following a probe against the family over Avenfield properties, London. Earlier, an accountability court recorded the statement of prosecution witnesses in Azizia Steel Mills and Avenfield properties references against the Sharif family. A witness informed the court that over Rs 57m was transferred to Maryam’s account from Hill Metal Company.

Shahbaz Sharif is also not free of trouble. He still faces the Minhajul Quran case, in which 14 people were killed and over 100 injured. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) has already announced a protest movement against him. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has rejected a plea of the NAB to reopen the Hudaibiya Paper Mills money laundering case against him and other members of the family, but the issue will not fizzle out easily. It will stare him in the face in a few months or later. There are also reports of over 60 MNAs of the ruling party having contacts with the PTI. Seeing Nawaz in jail before January 28, 2018, they are desperate to leave the party. However, the PTI cannot absorb such a large number of “electables” because it has to accommodate old party workers in the election. Shahbaz Sharif’s chance of becoming the next prime minister appears to be dim. It will be a great achievement for the PML-N if it saves its rule in its home province, what to speak of anything else.